Elsewhere

I am an essayist, for better or worse. I don’t suppose many young people dream of becoming essayists. Even as nerdy and bookish a child as I was fantasized about entering the lists of fiction and poetry, those more glamorous, noble genres on which Nobels, Pulitzers and National Book Awards are annually bestowed. So if Freud was right in saying that we can be truly happy only when our childhood ambitions are fulfilled, then I must be content to be merely content.

I like the freedom that comes with lowered expectations. In the area of literary nonfiction, memoirs attract much more attention than essay collections, which are published in a modest, quasi-invisible manner, in keeping with anticipated lower sales. But despite periodic warnings of the essay’s demise, the stuff does continue to be published; if anything, the essay has experienced a slight resurgence of late. I wonder if that may be because it is attuned to the current mood, speaks to the present moment. At bottom, we are deeply unsure and divided, and the essay feasts on doubt.

Ever since Michel de Montaigne, the founder of the modern essay, gave as a motto his befuddled “What do I know?” and put forth a vision of humanity as mentally wavering and inconstant, the essay has become a meadow inviting contradiction, paradox, irresolution and self-doubt. The essay’s job is to track consciousness; if you are fully aware of your mind you will find your thoughts doubling back, registering little peeps of ambivalence or disbelief.

According to Theodor Adorno, the iron law of the essay is heresy. What is heresy if not the expression of contrarian doubt about communal pieties or orthodox positions? This is sometimes called “critical thinking,” an ostensible goal of education in a democracy. But since such thinking often rocks the boat, we may find it less than supported in school settings. Typically, the exercise of doubt is something an individual has to cultivate on his or her own, in private, before summoning the courage to air it, say, in an essay.

Phillip Lopate, The Essay, an Exercise in Doubt

As a writer, I am an essayist, although that term is falling into disuse with the rise of the web. Now, people would call me a blogger, although naming a role for the tools used would mean tailors would be called needlers. 

No, I am an essayist, and I share Lopate’s identification with doubt and heresy proudly.

Lopate’s writing is masterful, filled with gems:

Age has not made me wiser, except maybe in retrospect. 

Strangely enough, doubt need not impede action.

Argumentation is a good skill to have, but the real argument should be with oneself.

I like the freedom that comes with lowered expectations.

I am an essayist, for better or worse.

I will have to track down one of his books, I think.

EXCLUSIVE: Google to Retire Blogger/Picasa Brands in Google+ Push -- Ben Parr

http://mashable.com/2011/07/05/google-blogger-picasa-rebranding/

Ben Parr reports — exclusively — that Picasa and Blogger will become cogs in the Google+ refactoring of Google’s social tools.

As I recently wrote, ” Google+ is currently a browser based system, but it is relatively easy to imagine the core functionality implemented in a next generation Android, and all the tools — like Circles and Hangouts — accessed as complementary apps, along with dozens or hundreds of others built by Google or a growing ecology of developers.”

And it seems that Google is moving to quickly ‘plusify’ systems that were standalone apps until the present day.

Can Google Go Social?

I have been watching Google’s frenetic quest to find an opening into the social revolution for a long time.

To date, what we have seen are experiments and acquisitions.

Having Gundotra lead social at Google reminds me of President Obama tapping General Petraeus to take on Afghanistan. It feels calming at the moment, but might not actually lead to the desired outcome.

On one one side, half-hearted hobbies that senior management hopes will grow into something great. In this category we have the more-or-less failed social network Orkut and now Wave, which both surfaced from the company’s ‘one day a week’ tinkering culture.

On the other, acquisitions like Jaiku and Dodgeball, which were innovative and groundbreaking, but were allowed to die in red tape, and where the innovative founders — like Jyri Engstrom of Jaiku, and Dennis Crowley of Dodgeball, soon left the company. Or great fat purchases like YouTube, which have proven to be less valuable than market prices.

Then, Google staged a relatively public search for a leader to move them to social. (Despite losing Jyri and Dennis, either of which could have done great things for the firm.) The result? Can’t find the right person. Catarina Fake couldn’t be lured back into corporate deadness, I guess. And Bradley Horowitz, who runs Google Talk, Grandcentral, Blogger and Picasa, wasn’t the right guy, apparently.

So now we have Vic Gundotra annointed as Mr Social, a guy who has made great strides at Google Mobile, getting Android into the market with a bang. But is he Mr Social?

Having Gundotra lead social at Google reminds me of President Obama tapping General Petraeus to take on Afghanistan. It feels calming at the moment, but might not actually lead to the desired outcome.

Om Malik puts it this way: Vic is a great product manager, focused on features. But social is more than a veneer of games, gestures, music, comments.

Om Malik, Slide, Vic Gundotra & The Un-Social Reality of Google

Social is more than just features. I’ve been saying for a while that in order to understand social and win over the social web, companies need to understand people. I’m not sure Google is capable of understanding people on that level, and that’s the reason why the company strikes out whenever it tries. There are rumors Google co-founder Sergey Brin championed the acquisition of Slide. He also championed Google Wave (which is shutting down) and the poorly conceived Google Buzz.

We are in a great migration away from a web of pages to a web of flow, where streams connect us and allow us to share links, comments, photos, games, locations, lists, and even larger social objects in the future. And Google has only had the smallest involvement in that expansion.

Google made a pile by harvesting the latent value of all the social gestures we were leaving around the web in the form of links. These form the core of Page Rank and Google’s search/advertising business.

This was born in the paleolithic of the social web, where mostly we were wandering around as hunter-gatherers, turning over rocks, based on keyword search. The idea of social in those days was to send email alerts to people so they’d remember to read your blog and post comments.

But the social web has grown based on social networks — relationships between people — not hyperlinks between web pages. We are in a great migration away from a web of pages to a web of flow, where streams connect us and allow us to share links, comments, photos, games, locations, lists, and even larger social objects in the future. And Google has only had the smallest involvement in that expansion. But they desperately want in on the next wave, but they haven’t found a formula yet. It’s not Wave or Buzz, obviously. And now they are plotting a knockoff of Facebook: how 2009!

There are many unplowed fertile fields out there, where Google’s scale and engineering soul could do great things. As just one example, modern social network research has shown that the social ‘scenes’ we are situated in — the millions of people that form the ‘friends of my friends’ friends’ network — are the single best predictor of our likelihood to be fat, smoke, or be happy. And by extension, buy Chevrolets, listen to Country music, or read manga. And no services have tapped into that reality, yet, except in the most inadvertent ways. (For more background see Social Scenes: The Invisible Calculus Of Culture, It’s Betweenness That Matters, Not Your Eigenvalue: The Dark Matter Of Influence and Jeff Jarvis on The Hunt For The Elusive Influencer.)

This is why actions like buying Slide are likely to be diversions, like Jaiku and Dodgeball turned out to be. Meanwhile, there are real advances to be made — like building sociality into the operating platforms of the future. Obviously Google is in a position to do that with Android and Chrome, but I honestly don’t think they know what to build.

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